Authors

Joshua M. Griffiths '14, Gettysburg College

Document Type

Student Research Paper

Date of Creation

Spring 2012

Department

French

Abstract

Since the beginning of the formal study of language, linguists have struggled with the phonological problems posed by the mid-central vowel sound schwa. Schwa poses a series of challenges for linguists who study many languages, and this is particularly true for phonologists and phoneticians who specialize in French. Most of the challenges that come from analyzing the articulations of schwa in French arise from the overlap it has with mid- and open-mid-front-rounded vowels in French such as in the second vowel in the word “atelier” (workshop) and the second vowel in the word “appeler” (to call.) In this study a diachronic (historic) analysis of schwa in the French language is performed in order to more easily explain the problems that schwa poses for Franco-linguists today. First of all, the nature of schwa is described and how schwa’s behavior plays into its role in Modern French. Problems proposed by reduced schwa vowels and the phonological processes that cause these reductions in Modern French are described. Vowel reduction is a phonetic process that occurs when changes in the articulation of the vowel such as stress, sonority, and loudness cause the vowel to be “weaker.” Finally, a diachronic analysis of the historical environments of schwa from Old French to Modern French is conducted in order to attempt to explain the challenges posed by schwa in modern French. The methodology for this paper involves finding the phonetic environments in which schwa has traditionally appeared from Old French to Modern French. Changes in the environments between each time period of French are finally examined to see how those changes have influenced modern phonological processes that influence the articulation of schwa. This study has shown that the disappearance and appearance of sounds in the phonemic inventory of French has greatly impacted how schwa is articulated in Modern French. Other linguistic processes such as labialization that were realized on schwa in the past are no longer realized, but they have proven to be essential in shaping the current vowel inventory of French.

Comments

This paper was presented at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR), April 3-5, 2014 at the University of Kentucky. Attached is his article from the conference proceedings.

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